Submitted by martin on 24 September, 2008 – 1:01
Aso Kamal of the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan spoke to Martin Thomas from Solidarity.
Passages in italics are explanatory additions supplied by Aso Kamal after the printed version of this interview had gone to press.
Q. You’ve recently set up the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan as well as the Worker-communist Party of Iraq. Why?
A. We are the same party in Iraq and in Kurdistan. We believe in the same principles: socialism, workers’ state. But in the last 17 years Kurdistan has been practically separated from Iraq.
There is a different economic, political, and social situation. Because of the different situations of struggle, we have to have different parties.
In Iraq the working class is pitted against the Sunni and Shia Arab nationalists. In Kurdistan we don’t have them. We are confronting the Kurdish nationalist parties, the ruling parties in Kurdistan [KDP and PUK]. We are not nationalist, we are internationalist and against nationalism.
Q. The situations have been different for 17 years. In some ways they were more different before 2003. So why set up separate parties now?
A. From 1991 we didn’t have a clear view of the future for Kurdistan. From 1995 we said that Kurdistan was separate. But because we were weak in Iraq, and the Ba’th government had such strict control, a separate Worker-communist Party of Iraq would not have been feasible.
In 2003 we said that maybe, because of the collapse of the Ba’th regime, there was a chance of a secular system in Iraq, a chance to remain in Iraq with equal citizenship rights, and that we would not need two parties. Unfortunately it hasn’t happened like that. Militia forces are ruling Iraq, the power and the society of Iraq divided the ethnic and religious identities, and Kurdistan is separated from Iraq. The people of Kurdistan do not want to go back under the central government and rule by the Islamists and the Arab nationalist parties.
For that reason, we insist now on a separate party for Kurdistan.
Q. There are many Arab workers in Iraqi Kurdistan now, because there are more jobs there than in the south; and there are many Kurds living in the Arab areas of Iraq. Which party should they join?
A. The workers coming from the other parts of Iraq to Sulaimaniya and other cities in Kurdistan are not staying there for long. They come, maybe, for a season, get some money, and go back home. They are transient. We support them, but for establishing a party you can’t depend on transient workers. We are organizing worker movement in Kurdistan including Arab workers.
In the rest of Iraq, the workers are organised by the Worker-communist Party of Iraq. But there are not many Kurdish workers left in Arab Iraq. They have moved to Kurdistan or they are living inside Kurdistan.
Q. What about Iraqi and Iraqi-Kurdish activists living outside Iraq, in Britain for example?
A. Which party they join, Worker-communist Party of Iraq or Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan, does not depends on nationality. We are against nationalism. We said everyone should make his or her choice depending on what type of activity they are doing. If the activities are concerning Kurdistan issues, it would be better to be with Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan.
Q. What are the main campaigns and activities of the Worker-communist Party in Kurdistan?
A. Independence for Kurdistan is the main issue now. The Maliki government has brought military forces to Kirkuk and Khanaqin [Kurdish cities]. It has said it wants all of Iraq controlled by the army. It is a clear strategy as a part of Iran’s Islamic regime; they want Iraq an Islamic regime so they can control the region. As a party that is concerned about the future and the life of people in Kurdistan, we have to oppose this situation.
The two nationalist ruling parties, because their interests are with sharing power and incomes with the so-called Iraqi government, don’t care about this future as long as their share is saved. For that reason we are working to establish an independent movement calling for a referendum on independence. In last 8 years we have organized many conferences, meetings, collected petitions, and we had a Referendum campaign and magazine. We are for a referendum on independence.
Also, the working class is struggling for wages, for better electricity supplies, for health provision, for clean water.
We are inside this movement, and many times we have organized “defenders’ groups”, and they are organizing demonstrations and pickets.
The other main issue is the women’s issue. We’ve been campaigning for many years against “honour killings” of women. About 30,000 women have been killed in “honour killings” in the last 17 years. Now, in law, “honour killing” is a crime. But in reality the system protects that crime. In Sulaimaniya or in Erbil, beside the courthouse, you have a social office for the party [PUK or KDP]. If someone kills a woman, they go to that social office and make a deal involving the leader of the tribe.
We organized a big campaign, a conference, and one week of media campaigning in Sulaimaniya, and there were tens of women organizations, newspapers, TV and Radio channels participating in this big campaign to stop women-killing in Kurdistan.
We are struggling for freedom of speech. Now, after the collapse of Saddam Hussein, there is no reason why the people of Kurdistan have to shut their mouths. The PUK and KDP in Kurdistan are not spending any money on improving people’s living conditions. Just one month ago, they killed a journalist in Kirkuk, Soran Mama Hama, because he criticised the PUK and KDP.
But it’s not a situation where there is authority, there is law, and where, if you demand something, you can campaign and change the law. In Kurdistan it is militia authority. They have power; they don’t listen to you. They may shoot you. It’s not really a state. It is un-civil authority.
We’ve had demonstrations in Sulaimaniya, demanding 24 hour electricity for the people. At present you have sometimes eight hours or ten hours of electricity, sometimes six.
Q. In Iraqi Kurdistan, you are able to organise demonstrations and publish newspapers openly?
A. It depends. It depends on the balance of power at the moment. It’s not easy for the ruling parties to shut down our newspapers.
Q. An independent Iraqi Kurdistan would be a landlocked state dependent for all its economic links and communications on a deal with at least one of the neighbouring states – Turkey, Syria, Iran, or Iraq. Turkey would probably be very hostile to an independent Iraqi Kurdistan, and there would be a threat of the Turkish army intervening. The people of Iraqi Kurdistan have a right to independence if they wish it, but would formal independence actually give a better deal than the existing de facto autonomy?
A. There is a changing situation in the Middle East. The US is no longer able to dictate the politics of the region. Turkey wants to be in the European Union; it doesn’t want to lose its chance to join over the Kurdistan issue. Of course there is Turkish army intervening, but they have limitations as well.
If Iraqi Kurdistan remains with the present situation, it is not safe. The Iranians want to consolidate Maliki in power. They have a strategy to control the whole of Iraq. Maybe in three or four years they can do that, though not now.
The Kurdish problem remains unsolved. We are concerned about people’s life and future. We don’t want to suffer from this situation for next century as well, and we want to solve it. We want to have stable life and clear future. We depend on what the people want and need. In an informal referendum in 2005, beside the constitution referendum in Iraq, 98% voted for independence for Kurdistan. That is what the people want.
If we get an independent state in Iraqi Kurdistan now, recognised by the UN, we will be safer. Now is the best time to solve the Kurdistan problem.
Q. The major recent change in Iraq as a whole is the strengthening of the Maliki government. For a while it was just a collection of people in offices in the Green Zone embezzling what they could, but it is now becoming more like a government. What difference do you think that makes to the tactics and strategy of the left in Iraq?
A. The workers in Iraq have to struggle for better wages and so on. But everything is controlled by militias. The strategy of the Iranians and Maliki is to have an Islamic republic in Iraq and not let the left have any space. I think they are going to establish a sort of military government in Iraq. You have to have trade unions and demonstrations and so on, but the left also needs military self-defence. Like in Lebanon, if you’re living under Hezbollah, you have to have a force to get rid of Hezbollah, you can’t just demand this or that measure from Hezbollah.
Q. The Maliki government has started being more assertive with the Americans. It rejected the “State Of Forces Agreement” which the USA wanted, and is now insisting on time lines for US withdrawal. But at the same time as becoming more assertive with the Americans, it may also get harsher against the labour movement. It still has the old Saddam Hussein labour laws, and need only enforce them to suppress the unions.
A. Yes. They want to get rid of the Americans, but they can’t do it now, suddenly. At the same time they want to get power within Iraq, and not have any opposition from the left, from communists. They can see how to do it from Iran. The Iranian regime was against America. At the same time they killed thousands of communists in Iran. The labour movement has to have its own say about the US occupation and about Maliki as well. We have to have a third front. We want to get rid of the Americans, and we want to get rid of Maliki and the Islamic government. It’s a very difficult situation for the left in Iraq.
Q. There’s an international labour conference, called by some Iraqi union organisations, scheduled in Erbil in February next year.
A. It’s important to get support for Iraqi trade unions now. They organised demonstrations outside the finance ministry in Baghdad last month, about wages. They need international support against the Maliki government and against the militias.
Q. It’s strange that since 2003 independent unions have grown more in Arab Iraq than in Iraqi Kurdistan.
A. After 1991 in Iraqi Kurdistan, we had councils, and we had an unemployed organisation which organised a big demonstration in 1993. We organised trade unions in hospitals and factories and schools.
Today there are many unions in Kurdistan. But they are not the sort of unions that attack the government and demand things. They are more silent.
In the rest of Iraq, I don’t think it is like 2003. The unions are weaker than before. The militias make a very difficult situation for the unions.
Two weeks ago there was a big demonstration of cement workers in Sulaimaniya, demanding many things. There are many movements like that. But the unions are controlled by the PUK and KDP.
Three years ago I was in a demonstration with a teachers’ union which had split from PUK and KDP. They have radical demands and are struggling for them. But it’s a group, not like a union which has a regular organisation.
They are organizing a big strike in Sulaimaniya now, and thousands of teachers are participating and confronting the PUK and their yellow teachers’ union.
Q. What percentage of the population in Iraqi Kurdistan lives in the cities?
A. About 70%. The Ba’th government displaced people from the villages.
Q. So there’s a big housing problem in the cities?
A. Yes. There are many new buildings in Sulaimaniya and Erbil now, but if you don’t have money you can’t get a place to live. The raising of the income of the capitalist class there is unbelievable.
Q. Exports and imports go predominantly through Turkey, or through Iraq?
A. Before 2003 it was through Turkey. Now there is more through Iraq and Iran.